Like everyone else, I often wonder about the times we are living in. The chaos, the lack of faith, the cynicism and the hopelessness that surround us makes me not want to think about the future that awaits us. Or perhaps it makes me think more about it.
As Indians, we come across brutal accounts of crimes being committed against women and children, violence at the drop of the hat, road rage, and what not! With every such incident, we worry a little and hope a little more. After all, it’s impossible to survive if we didn’t have hope to lean upon.
I read in one of my Hindi Literature lessons back in school that we become bad citizens of a country in two ways – first, by breaking the laws, behaving irresponsibly towards public property or fellow country men, evading the taxes, etc. The second is by saying negative things about the country to the world outside. And it’s true – if you abuse your mother, you are, in fact, abusing yourself. If we succeed in being a good citizen by the first measure, we sometimes fail in the second one.
I open Facebook and I see angry status messages against the situation in this country, I go on Twitter and my timeline is flooded with shameful tweets, I talk to people and I only hear cynicism oozing out. Amid-st all this hopelessness, I desperately look for hope that I can hold onto. Something that will make me look forward to the next day without any fear.
I am going to write about two sides of India in this post. Two extremely contrast sides – with only one thing in common, lack of cynicism and presence of hope. Hope that is sufficient for me to keep living.
Padma Didi is a beautiful Maharashtrian lady who comes to our house twice everyday to cook our lunch and dinner. She is always smiling, sharing a joke, saying her prayers or asking us of our well being. She hardly ever takes leave and if she has to, she ensures we don’t get too troubled because of her absence.
Once when she wasn’t able to come since she had guests over, she seemed a little worried about how we (cousins/siblings) would manage. It wasn’t really a problem since Pune doesn’t have any lack of eating-out options. She hesitantly asked, “Why don’t you all come to my house to eat?”. I wasn’t sure what was I supposed to say! She insisted and I agreed.
Padma Didi’s house was in a small basti in the the heart of the city. The by-lanes were enough for only one person to walk through at a time. Her house, at 15 ft * 10 ft, was smaller than our kitchen. She had made puran-poli for us, a Maharashtrian delicacy we all relish. We took along a box of sweets for her.
Her tiny little house was spick-and-span, everything in order and very comfortable! “Please help yourselves!” , said she once we started eating. After we had finished and other guests left, we got talking. She told us about how her daughter had a love marriage when she was 18 and her son would have one too! She also told us how, even as she belonged to a conservative society, they were open to inter-caste marriages (a rarity in most educated Indian families till today). She agreed to her daughter’s alliance because the guy’s family promised they would let her study after marriage. “She is a pampered kid, doesn’t know much of household chores”, she had ‘warned’ her daughter’s would-be in-laws. I was amazed! She was too broad minded for a stereotypical Indian family. And so keen on her daughter’s education even after she got married while we fight against female foeticide and girl-child education amongst the educated class.
|Padma Didi’s house with an altar of God.
Isn’t it a wonderful story? We only hear about evil in-laws, tormented wives, unsuccessful love marriages and family’s denial to an alliance because of caste issues. This was a refreshing change from the drab. And to think of it, Padma Didi and her husband are not educated. She cooks for others, he is a driver. But they are open to change and happy to live in a one-room house and willing to serve guests with smiles and yummy puran-polis. This is India too! It’s hard to attach any hopelessness with their lives, while we crib about everything that’s wrong with ours.
There must be so many of such stories that need to be told and spoken about.
The other side of India that I am going to write about is India from someone else’s eyes. By someone, I mean Kenneth Maginnity.
What would be your reaction if you found out that a handsome Australian-American will be riding across India, on a Royal Enfield, for close to four months, all by himself?
You would probably smirk, crack a joke about how he doesn’t know what he’s in for and if you are too kind, you will pray for his safety – “beware of excessively sweet strangers”, you would say.
I had my fears too! When I heard about Ken’s ride across India to end poverty, I was intrigued. What was wrong with him? Or may be something was really right with what he was doing?
I got to meet Ken first because Vineet hosted him for a couple of days in Mumbai before he set out on his mission. Mission to change some lives for the better!
He crossed Pune a few days after I met him Mumbai and this time we met for lunch at an Indian restaurant where he would have nothing but roti with tandoori chicken. He had already been to Goa and back before reaching Pune. I was looking forward to hearing his stories and experiences and how disappointed he had been along the way.
I was taken aback when he told me that there were strangers who went out of their way to help him out, mechanics who fixed his vehicle without taking anything in return and unknown people who offered to pay for his food at restaurants since he was a guest in this country! We laughed as he tried to explain that he had ‘puri paani’ and ‘chikpea salad’ (chhole chaat). By now, he was already addicted to the milky ginger tea that we Indians cannot do without!
|Ken in Pune
He couldn’t stop raving about how kind the people were to him and I couldn’t stop feeling relieved and proud at the same time. I wished him well for the remaining ride and we said our bye-byes. Over the next three months, I looked forward to his Facebook updates which only spoke about what a wonderful experience India was turning out to be for him. Ken left for America without being cheated, mistreated or hurt even once! He went back happy, satisfied with his effort and overwhelmed with the love and affection he exchanged in our country.
In his recent email, he wrote to me, “I just ate cereal for breakfast (boring) and now I long for a ginger tea…..“.
In another, “never have I been welcomed like I have in India. The stories I can tell others of the way the Indian community helped me in so many ways are too many to count. From 11 pm tyre changes in the middle of nowhere to the Indian army putting me up for a night when I had no way to keep going. This is not mentioning the way the Indian biker community rallied behind me and my cause.”
“Many have asked me, “Were you safe in India?”, “What did you have stolen?”, “How did you protect yourself?” To them I say that I have never felt so safe in a country like I did in India. Most of the people are welcoming, loving and thoughtful, yes there are a few that tested my patience, for the most part though the people are like the country…….beautiful! I had nothing stolen as for personal protection…..a smile was all I needed.”
When was the last time we wrote or said even three sentences in praise of this country or its people? Don’t you think the change has to start from one self? May be spreading around some positive vibes will help in some way? The least we can do is not be cynical even as we sit for protests or ‘condemn the government on social media’.
There is a lot of good despite all the bad. Let’s talk about that for a change?
‘Shanti’ is what Ken named his Enfield. It would be enough if I repeated that word once to myself and those around me everyday!
|Ken’s Enfield, Shanti